8 Rumors, Theories & Strange Facts About Hillsong Church (And Justin Bieber's Hot Pastor Carl Lentz)

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7 Rumors, Theories & Strange Facts About Hillsong Church (And Justin Bieber's Hot Pastor Carl Lentz)
Entertainment And News

Before there were rumors of Justin Bieber starting his own religion, there were actual religions. For the most part, religions are innocent enough, but then there are the religions that seem rather... odd.

Take Scientology, for example, the religion famously followed by the likes of John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Laura Prepon. There was even the celebrity Kabbalah phase, promoted by Madonna and her infamous red string bracelet.

For a while now, it has been Hillsong Church making news — a Christian church that touts itself as “a global movement positioned at the intersection of Christianity and culture.”

The church is popular in the tabloids for its connection to huge stars like Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin, who’ve made some pretty shocking announcements that seem rooted in their beliefs in the church. The couple is now married and religion is the basis of their relationship.

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What is Hillsong Church, and is it a cult?

And what about it is attracting these high profile worshipers, including Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin, Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger, and others?

1. Hillsong is a Christian church with a strong emphasis on music.

Founded in 1983 by the married couple Brian and Bobbie Houston, the church has spread all over the world. According to its website, it has spread to 30 countries across six continents and estimates an average weekly global attendance of 150,000.

Its presence in the US is pretty small, with only eight locations spread across the country (which means Beliebers have a decent chance of spotting him at a service). Every week, over 50 million people sing Hillsong's music in over 60 languages throughout the world.

Where Hillsong differs from the more established religions is its focus on music. The church has three music labels of its own, a platinum record in the US, and a 2016 Billboard Music Award for Top Christian Artist. Go ahead and look them up on Spotify — we’ll wait.

Since 1992, Hillsong Worship has created 46 albums with over 300 songs. They won a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Christian Song/Performance for their hit song, "What a Beautiful Name."

Hillsong UNITED is a group that is lead by Joel Houston, the son of Bobbie and Brian. This group has created 17 albums. Their songs "Ocean" and "Zion" reached double-platinum status in the United States. They also were named the Top Christian Artist at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards.

They also have a youth music ministry called Young & Free. They have 3 albums and were nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for their album Youth Revival.

In 2019, Hillsong Worship's latest album, Awake, released, along with Hillsong UNITED's latest album, People. In August 2020, Young & Free released their latest album, All of My Best Friends.

In 2016, they launched, in partnership with Trinity Broadcasting Network, a global 24-hour channel that provides unlimited access to worship and the ministry to anyone around the world.

2. There are some scary abuse claims and cult accusations against Hillsong Church.

There isn’t a religion out there that hasn’t faced some sort of scandal, and even in its short time in existence Hillsong is no different.

Perhaps the most horrifying claims against the church are those surrounding the founder’s late father.

Houston’s father (who was also a pastor at the church) faced nine allegations of sexual abuse, though he confessed to only one instance of sexual abuse against a 7-year-old boy.

An Australian royal commission accused Houston of covering up the crimes.

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3. Hillsong Church was accused of offering gay conversion therapy.

Unfortunately, many religions still preach against homosexuality. And even though Hillsong touts itself as a “contemporary” church, according to an ex-member of Hillsong, some of the church’s ideologies are far from contemporary.

He said that Hillsong has a “zero tolerance” policy for homosexuality, and even went so far as to offer gay conversion therapy to its parishioners where they would force camps of hundreds of boys to strip naked and run on the beach.

But is this true? 

On their website, they now state their position on gay conversion therapy and on homosexuality, saying, "We would like to clarify and correct the following misinformation... Hillsong Church does not preach against anyone or any group; we are not 'anti-anyone.' We are an inclusive Christian church that loves, values, and welcomes all people, regardless of their background, ethnicity, beliefs, values, or personal identity... Pastor Brian has been a vocal opponent of gay conversion therapy and has made it clear to our pastors that we do not support that approach."

4. Is Hillsong Church a cult?

People who are anti-religion might claim that all religious sects are a cult. Technically, they’re not all that wrong.

By definition, a cult is “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object,” and, more formally, “a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.”

Of course, "strange" and "sinister" are subjective, but something does seem a little off with Hillsong’s practices.

For one, churchgoers are known to all wear the same peculiar hat. Then, there’s its insistence on donations from parishioners is a little shady.

One publication reported that “those who have been to Hillsong services report that leaders are swift to imply followers must give as much money as they can to the church,” which goes so far as to use Bible verses to encourage generous donations.

To be fair, this isn’t all that different from, say, a Catholic church that also encourages donations. However, Hillsong is unique in that it seems to be recruiting and exploiting celebrity attendance, which ultimately leads to a bigger bottom line.

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5. What is Justin Bieber’s connection to Hillsong Church?

Bieber angered fans in July 2017 when he abruptly canceled his Purpose tour without giving much reasoning. Soon after, Bieber canceled the tour to focus on his “spiritual awakening,” courtesy of Hillsong.

Apparently, Bieber started getting serious about his religion in 2014 when he first met Hillsong pastor, Carl Lentz. He moved in with Lentz and his family for a month, going so far as getting on his knees and telling Lentz, “I want to know Jesus.”

Heartbreaking, right?

In 2017, it seemed like Bieber and Lentz spent an eyebrow-raising amount of time together. And they weren't just praying — they were caught eating lunch together and even taking shots at a New Zealand bar

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6. Who is Justin Bieber’s pastor, Carl Lentz?

Lentz first made an appearance in Bieber’s life in 2014 (when Bieber seemed to be having a pretty rough time with life), but it was only recently that he started making headlines of his own. 

He's been called the “hipster preacher,” and it’s easy to see why. A quick scroll through his Instagram and you’re bombarded with photos of a slick, good-looking, well-dressed guy often in the company of celebrities.

In an interview, Pastor Carl revealed his life wasn’t always on the right track. He originally studied criminal justice at North Carolina State where he was on the basketball team, but dropped out because he “wasn’t following Jesus.” Eventually, he went to seminary school in LA and the rest is hipster pastor history.

Because Bieber has ensured that Hillsong is frequently in the news because he is present in the pews, he has been granted both a religious and reputational rebirth.

7. Did Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin get married inside Hillsong Church?

Hailey Baldwin is a fellow Hillsong member, responsible for at least 100,000 attendees each week in over 21 countries. Baldwin is very open about her religion and how Hillsong plays a major role in their relationship.

She started attending Hillsong Church at the age of 16. She found it to be more of a community.

"It started to feel like my own little community of people who were also young and following God and just immersed in a church community. Then I developed my own relationship with the church and my own relationship with God, separate from being raised that way by my parents. That's been a cool journey for me," she revealed.

But when it comes to her relationship with Bieber, Hillsong is the key to their happiness. They even reconnected through the church.

"We ended up being at this church conference together in Miami, and it was the first time we'd seen each other in a while. I remember we were hanging out and I was like, 'Listen, I'm really, really happy for us to be friends again. I want us to always be cool and be friends.' He was like, 'Yeah, here's the thing: We're not going to be friends.' And I was like, 'Oh, Is that so?'" Baldwin said.

But when the couple got married, they attributed the strong bond of their relationship to their shared faith, adding, "Being able to share that with each other — to have that bond of faith and spirituality — is so [critical] for us. It’s the most important part of our relationship, following Jesus together, being a part of the church community together. It’s everything.”

8. What other celebrities are in Hillsong Church?

Bieber’s not the only one getting his prayer on. In fact, the church has been accused of pandering to celebrities.

“People say we cater to celebrities,” Pastor Carl said in an interview, “and I say, yes, we do. Celebrities deserve a relationship with God. Celebrities deserve a place to pray.”

Stars like Hailey Baldwin and Selena Gomez have been caught leaving Hillsong services or hanging out with the hipster preacher himself. Kourtney Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Nick Jonas, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ellen Page have also been seen attending church at Hillsong.

Despite Lentz’s brush-off, it’s undeniable that Hillsong seems to be at the center of some major celeb decisions. Not long after Bieber canceled his tour seemingly in the name of God, Cleveland basketball player Kyrie Irving shocked fans by saying he no longer wanted to play in the Cavaliers franchise soon after meeting with Lentz.

The pastor also baptized Golden State Warriors player Kevin Durant, and was by his side when Durant signed a sports management contract with Jay-Z.

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Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in August 2017 and was updated with the latest information.

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Micki Spollen is a YourTango editor, writer, and traveler. Follow her on Instagram and keep up with her travels on her website.